November 18, 1999
Ruskin, Florida

In Pensacola we stayed at the Parafox Pier Yacht Harbor and it was the most pricey place we have stayed for months... One dollar per foot. And they had no hot water!!! Oh the joys of cruising. However we did enjoy the town of Pensacola.. Friendly people and good marine stores. I got some new binoculars which are just great. Sunday morning we (Vera II, A Time For US, and Taking Betts) departed and headed east on the Intracoastal Waterway once again. The day was another beautiful Florida day and the channel began to narrow throughout the day. Our plan was to travel about 50 miles to an anchorage we had heard about on the other side of Destin. However we found a small island long before we got to Destin and we all decided to anchor between the island and the strip of land that borders the Gulf of Mexico. The water was crystal clear and shallow but with Carol on the bow we inched into the protected area. We all rafted and lowered dinghies and went off to explore. We first explored the island, which had beautiful white sand and then we went off to the other shore to cross over to the Gulf. We beached the dinghies on another white sand beach and set out on foot to cross the half mile of sand to the gulfs beach. We are amazed at the fineness of the sand and how white it is. We walked the beach into the sunset and searched for shells. As the sun set we started the walk back to the dinghies and were back aboard as the full moon rose up in the east. It was spectacular with Jupiter hanging just over the top of the full moon.The following morning we had made plans to leave early because we had a long day ahead of us. The anchors were pulled and we set off to retrace our route into this anchorage. I went aground as we rounded the bend and started to head into the channel. I backed off easily, found some deeper water and tried again with success. Tom, aboard ?A Time For Us? however had a less successful time of it. He got stuck pretty well and it took a while for him to get off and find deeper water. It was Tom’s birthday and we all agreed that it wasn’t the best way to start the day. It was a long day of motoring but in the end we found a great anchorage and celebrated Tom’s birthday with cake and a very happy evening with a great southern meal of chicken and dumplings and collard greens and much more. Debbie out did herself again. We had anchored just about 7 miles west of Panama City and in the morning Taking Betts left early to get fuel. We followed about an hour later to find fuel for Vera II as well. As we entered the harbor the U.S. Navy was performing some kind of wierd exercise pulling large rafts around the bay with was really strange. We found the fuel dock and filled the tank and Carol got a free Florida magnet. We were all underway again by 10 am and headed east once again. This day proved to be a long one as well. We are trying to make time so we can make our ?weather window? to cross the Gulf. We are hoping to get to the jump off point to make the 80 mile crossing when the conditions are right. Everyone must have been tired this day as we didn’t even have a happy hour... a first for this crowd. We anchored right near the Apalachicola River where the time zone change takes place. However, day light savings time ends on Saturday so we all elected not to change any of our clocks. It works out that since we are leaving central daylight time and soon we will be in eastern daylight that will soon change to eastern standard........ well you can work it out... it sure confused us for a few days.

Wednesday morning we motored down the river through Apalachicola and out into the bay turning East toward Carabelle, the final jumping off point and the weather forecast for Thursday is perfect for a crossing. The NOAA weather is calling for winds at 5-10 and seas at 1 foot or less..perfect. We decide not to go into Carrabell but to anchor just behind Dog Island which will save us an hour or so in the morning. We anchor in beautiful emerald water and dinghy ashore once again to walk on the Gulf beach. We find lots of beautiful shells and when we return to the boats we all watched the most beautiful red sunset over water that is pure glass. Just as flat and as smooth as you could ever see. We are all excited about the crossing, as it is notorious for being foul. We cannot believe our good luck. It was about two in the morning when the wind began to pick up and the boats began to leap about on their anchor lines. By six in the morning we were rocking uncomfortably on the anchor. After a great deal of discussion at five thirty A.M. we elected not to make the crossing. We were all disappointed and we headed into Carrabelle. Little did we know that this would be our home for the next nine days. Waiting for weather is tedious work. Mornings always begin with coffee and the weather, but when you are stuck in port and can’t move the mornings start earlier and the coffee seems more bitter. We did get to ride our bikes a lot, the marina was quite nice and there was an IGA Plus very close by. All in all it could have been worse. While in Carrabelle we celebrated Halloween, ate out a couple of times, did some repairs and had the worse rain of the trip. Some one said that we had four and a half inches in about five hours... it really rained. We found all our leaks! Really only had but one very small leak and got it fixed the next day. However as the front mover through the wind died, the rain kept up and my bimini (canvas top) collapsed with the weight of the water. One of the aluminum struts snapped. I did a fine repair the following day. Keith had some extra tubing and I was able to get some stainless machine screws at the local hardware store. Looks good and works well.. total cost $1.16! I also had time to make a crude but functional web site. Nine days after we arrived in Carrabelle (Cara-Hell) we left in the early morning darkness to strike for Steinhatchee some 80 miles away. The marine forecast still called for 3-4 foot seas but it was certainly better than the 6 -9 foot predicted days before. As we left the dock in total darkness Keith’s steering went out... we waited another 20 minutes but the repair went well and we were out into the channel as the sun began to rise. The first hour into the trip was fine but you could feel the seas building. By the time we made our turn at bouy #26 the seas were up to 3 feet and on the nose. Debbie, aboard ‘A Time For Us’ had fed their dogs sea sick pills and took some herself and was asleep for the early part of the rough weather. All in all not too bad but it made for an uncomfortable ride. Poor Pearl had her first experience with sea sickness..twice! The rough water lasted for only about two and a half hours and then it was as though some one just turned it off. Everything went relatively flat in a very short span. The remainder of the day was fine and we pulled into Steinhatchee no worse for the experience. Pearl recovered straight away and was a happy kitty once again. We anchored right in the middle of ?town? just off some one’s front yard and not long after we anchored all of the water ran out of the river so we sat on the bottom - a very stable way for three boats rafted together to spend the night. Because of the low water we could not get an early start. This held true for the next few days. Each morning we would have to hang out almost until noon before we could get underway. I was amazed at just how little water there is in this part of the world. We started our crossing celebration the following morning with bloody marys and a breakfast fit for a king. Debbie cooked a great quiche for everyone. We got underway around 11:30 and headed for the Suwanee River (Of the ?Way down upon? fame) and found that there is very shallow water all along the coast. We were accompanied by several porpoises for a while. We took pictures and video of these wonderful animals. They played right in our bow wake and seemed to like to have an audience as Carol and I took turns going up to the bow to watch. Keith ran agound as we entered the Suwanee River Channel near bouy #5A.. but was able to free Taking Betts and polish his props in the process. We went quite a ways up the river before we could find a place to anchor. But what a beautiful spot we found. We watched fish jump all around us and another fantastic sunset. After waiting for the tide to return the next morning we made our way down to Cedar Key. Cedar Key is a quaint little town that is gearing up for tourists. We tied to the town dock and walked all through town.. we found ice cream and everything. During the night the wind and the tide decided to fight it out right under our boat. Boy what a rough night at the dock... I don’t think I can remember another night like that at the dock. We didn’t sleep from about 1:30 on and I was up several times just checking the lines which seemed as though they would part at any time. By morning the tide began to change again and everything began to settle down. Carol and I toured the town once again. By 11:30 we were underway and heading for the Crystal River in hopes of finding Manatees.. everyone has said that Manatees abound in these waters. We anchored just inside the river’s entrance. Everyone came aboard Vera II and we headed up river toward Crystal Springs in hopes of spotting Manatees. We never did spot any Manatees but we did have a great cruise with friends and that was equally as fun. From Crystal River we headed for Tarpon Springs. This would be the final leg for Keith and Judy aboard Taking Betts. They had started their adventure three years ago and are completing their loop here in Tarpon Springs. This day brought is into really shallow water filled with crab pots. Cruising seven miles offshore, the deepest water we saw was about twelve feet and most of the day we were in seven to nine feet of water. Porpoises came and went as we traveled and the water was a wonderful emerald green color. About 1300 I managed to snag a crab pot with the rudder. Vera II suddenly started to vibrate as I was avoiding a pot and we instantly knew just what had happened. I took her out of gear, radioed the others and told them that I was going swimming. Everyone came to a stop and waited. I had expected the worse case - thinking that the rope must have wrapped the shaft and prop. I strapped my knife to my wrist and donning a mask I dove down under the boat. To my surprise the line had just snagged the bottom of my rudder. I was able to free the line without cutting it, which I am sure makes the crabber happy. While I was in the water I gave the boat a quick look over. The zincs were fine and everything looked OK. Not bad after six months and 4000 miles. I climbed back aboard and showered off on the back deck as Carol got us underway. Keith had time to put his dinghy on his foredeck before we all headed once again for Tarpon Springs. By late afternoon we were heading up the channel toward Keith’s final destination and at ten past five we tied at Anclote Isle Marina. We spent our time watering and washing the boat and just getting everything tidy. We all met at seven thirty to go and celebrate Keith and Judy's completion of their loop, but had a hard time leaving the dock. Pearl kept trying to get out of the boat and as she has never been off the boat yet we were timid about letting her have free roam of the outside of the boat as we went off to dinner. Every time I got her into the cabin she scooted right out again. I finally go her in, the door shut and we were off to the restaurant. We dined at ‘Louie Papas’, a well known local Greek restaurant. The food was fantastic as was the service and atmosphere. We toasted Keith and Judy’s health and safe return to their home port. They will be spending the next few months here and then moving on to the Keys. Tarpon Springs is a Greek community and known for it’s sponge divers. It is also a busy shipbuilding community. From our slip at the marina we could see several busy yards and from the restaurant we could see more. When we returned we could not find Pearl, Carol immediately went into a panic but just seconds later, Pearl came in from outside. She had apparently found a window open just enough to get out. It was a short panic but a lesson learned. Pearl can apparently take care of herself outside while Mom and Dad go play. The following morning we did chores and Carol, Debbie, Judy and Keith all went off to do some provisioning as I did the engine room thing once again. Tom and I debated on the best route to get to Egmont Key, which is just outside of Tampa Bay. We had heard that the shelling there is the best around and that there is a good anchorage. We debated on whether or not to take the ICW or to go ‘outside’ into the Gulf. We elected the ICW. It was the right choice as we had been offshore for the past several days and this gave a good up close look at this part of Florida. We motored down through Clearwater, St. Petersburg and all the small towns in between. It was about four thirty in the afternoon when we found the pass that lead back out into the Gulf and Egmont Key was just six miles away. As we started out the wind was out of the Northwest (Northeast was predicted) and the waves were about three feet (1 foot predicted) so we elected to find some place a bit more protected for the evening. Within a very few minutes we found a secluded little harbor and had anchors down bow and stern in just over four feet of water. It was shallow, but it was home for the night. Debbie made a wonderful supper complete with Christmas Carols and Key Lime pie and we dined aboard ‘A Time For Us’. The following morning, after considerable fuss getting back into the channel, we departed our cove and headed for Egmont Key. The sea was up a bit and the six miles to the island seemed longer. We arrived at the eastern shore of Egmont Key to be greeted with signs that said we could not stop... it is nesting season for some bird that would rather not have our company. So in a short chop on the bow we said our good-byes to Tom and Debbie over the VHF radio as we turned north and up toward the Skyway Bridge and into Tampa Bay.. our destination is Ruskin and Shell Point Marina where Vera II will spend the next couple of months while we go home to New England for the holidays. Debbie and Tom are headed for their home port of Key Largo and the completion of their loop. We called my folks as we crossed under the bridge and traveled into Tampa Bay. As we were approaching the channel to the marina and as I was talking to the dockmaster, David, my brother, was standing on the pier right in front of us waving hello. The channel into Shell Point was shallow, like every channel in Florida, and of course we ran aground a half mile before we reached the dock. We were able to back off the sand bar and continue to the dock where David was waiting to help with lines. It was good to see Dave as we have not been together for some time.

That was almost a week ago now and our visit has been very good. Dave and Kathy have opened their home to us and Dave has loaned me his truck for our stay. We have toured the area, gone to a flea market and a Grand Banks dealer, seen Manatees and gone to galleries so it has been a very good visit. This Saturday we are renting a car at the Tampa airport and driving home for the holidays. We are curious to see how Pearl adapts to traveling by car and living on land... we will let you know. We will be stopping in New York to visit our live-aboard friends Ann and Gordon (you remember them from our early newsletters) at Liberty Landing Marina and hopefully will be at the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day. It will be good to visit with our frineds and to spend time with our daughter Megan and her husband Ron. This trip has made us realize just how important our family and friends are to us and the holidays are the perfect time to spend with them. So this may be the last letter for a while but while I am at home I will be able to update the website. So for those who we will not see for the holidays, have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas or Hanukkah, and a wonderful beginning to the next Millennium.

Bridges Passed Under/Through 507
Locks 69
Miles Traveled 4032
Average speed 7 mph
16 States
2 Countries
174 Days

“There is no place like home.” Dorothy